travelogue (pt. 2)

I had mentioned on a previous post that I went to St. Herman’s Monastery in the midst of a period of spiritual struggle in my life.

These struggles seem to have a reoccuring theme in my life, they had brought me to the wall where I was trying to make myself okay with throwing in the spiritual towel.

I have considered how I wanted to share about my struggle as well as how I was encouraged. I have decided to just share my notes from that time. What comes first are the notes I made regarding my struggle, and following those notes are the ones I made following my conversation in the Kitchen. I have decided to not explain them, or clarrify them; although some could use a bit of clarification… instead I will just leave them as they are. I do this for a few reasons– A) To avoid over thinking about them in order to explain them. B) That they might encourage someone else. C) As a reminder to myself for when these struggles arise again as to what I have already learned.

And I do this in the hope that no one will stumble because of my words.

May God be glorified in this example of His strength in the midst my weakness.
~papa herman

-I have been Orthodox for 7 years and I still feel like I am in a strange land.
-It seems that alot of what I do as a Christian now– i.e. follow the Fasts, struggle against the passions, and etc is so that I can receive the Eucharist, be considered by others as faithful, and to stay on course for my Godsons.
-I don’t feel any closer to Christ.
-I feel like my struggle against the passions is a work of personal discipline…
-I think about how St. Mary of Egypt struggled for 17 years. But I feel like I struggle on my own… as a parent I know that if I do not offer some sort of encouragement that my kids can become discouraged.
-My prayers are often filled with wandering thots.
-I am aware and acknowledge that I struggle with depression and that I am in that Season currently. But also as these feelings of depression subside all is good. But these similar thots and feelings seem to arise each time.
-I feel boxed in, while at the same time not fully understanding what the Church teaches… as a Protestant I felt more comfident; now I am afraid to step out and say I believe this or that for fear that I am wrong — Our Church holds the right Faith, the right belief and so I want to know and proclaim that… I have done it my own way for years.
-I feel discontent, yet too scared to do anything about it.
-I get discouraged by some of the externals.
-I read about the Saints and Righteous Ones and the do not seem all caught up in regulations, theology, etc… They just seem to flow, loving Christ, His Mother, the Saints and etc. I would like that.
Sure of course there are others you read and the authors seem to focus on others.
-Is it just my struggle to not be at peace?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

+Ascetiscism/Ascetic life, the struggle against the passions is to get the stuff out of the way that keeps us from loving Christ.
That gets in the way between us and Christ. It is like a bulldozer plowing/pushing the junk out of the way.
+It is not performanced based, attempting to please God or earn His favor–
+We can’t force God’s love–we ask for it.
+Spiritual reading is to know Christ, the One I love.

This morning I had coffee with Compadre David, I share a bit with him about this. I mentioned how silly I felt being willing to throw in the spiritual towel over something that was able to be dealt with in 10 minutes. David reminded me to consider where I was at the time… “And…” I added, “…whose prayers I had asked.”

These things, especially the things that ministered to my heart and soul so much, may not seem like alot… but they sank deep into my heart bringing healing and Salvation.

How fragile we humans are… how easily we can get knocked off course. Will this be the last time I struggle? No.
King David said, “What is man that Thou are mindful of him?” I am thankful that God is mindful of us; that He understands our weaknesses way better than we do.

God is good and loves mankind.

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9 Responses to “travelogue (pt. 2)”

  1. Matthew Says:

    I think your anxiety about what you know is just insecurity. I have seen you interact with others about the faith, and it is not how many facts you can remember but the love in which you communicate. I feel, you are doing as fell as any and better than most if that is allowable.

  2. John M. Caldwell Says:

    Dear Herman,

    I can’t tell you how much these four simple truths of our faith you shared ministered to me this evening; an evening when feeling physically ill (flu-like stuff) triggered a mild depression for me.

    After 11 years in the Church I too have experienced many of the struggles you mentioned in your post. There have been many times in my journey when I thought to myself “what’s the use?” or “I will never get this!” or “I’m just about the externals and even in that regard I’m a real sham!” Most disappointing to me though are the times when I said “that’s it, I give up!” and walked away–even if “walking away” was just in the form of staying home from a service, skipping my daily prayers or eating that ice cream (or whatever) on a Wednesday!

    But it was always been in those times–those moments of small rebellion and desperation–that I found myself just before the doorstep of God’s grace, reaching out in desperate need for His mercy. Every time I’m always “surprised” once again by the realization that I cannot help myself. I can only cooperate with His divine mercy and grace through my feeble attempts to love Christ, obey His commandments and realize that the way I act toward my least favorite neighbor in thought, word and deed is the way I show my love for God the most (to paraphrase Glenn Kaiser). I hope can learn to love.

    “How fragile we humans are… how easily we can get knocked off course.”

    I’ve contemplated this for years… why in the world do we get tripped up again and again over the same erroneous thoughts and sins we were perhaps watchful and “victorious” over just last week/month/year? I always try to remember what Fr. Seraphim has told me on a couple different occasions: “it’s because of a truth someone once said: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

    Our times and seasons of struggle–regardless of what struggle means for us individually–are always a sign of growth and coming grace just as times of grace are often a sign of coming struggle. Such is the way of things in the Orthodox life. Glory to God that He is so good and loves mankind regardless of where we find ourselves.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey and blessings.

    John

    PS–Please remember us in your prayers, we’re both feeling quite yucky. OK, time for bed. 🙂

  3. libbie Says:

    It may sound somewhat childish but when i read this blog the first thing I felt in my heart were lyrics to a really bad song with a few good lines in it.
    “I get knocked down but I’ll get up again.”
    I have struggled with depression most of my life some of which you and your family have been there with me. I have been ashamed of most of my doubtful moments and I have allowed them to stay hidden in my heart because of shame what the world may think of me. But then I remember those words “i get knocked down but I’ll get up again.” and some how I am reminded that it is because of my hard times that I truly am able to enjoy the good times.

  4. Belladonna Says:

    Herman,
    Even though I am NOT Orthodox, my times spent with you have brought ME to feel closer to Christ. You have welcomed me in your sactuary and you have welcomed me in your home. Through various conversations about matters of faith I have never one time felt judged by you over the fact that we have different beliefs. Even though my spiritual path is strongly dedicated in a different direction, my experience of Christianity is sweeter as a result of the teachings of Orthodoxy I have studied, in no small part due to your example. Whether it was loaning me books to read or talking about various principles, you’ve been a gift in my spiritual walk NOT by having it all figured out, but by being a man who is striving and searching, doing the best you can even when at times all feels confused or lost. You are not alone in the alienation you sometimes feel. Neither will you be alone in the moments of joyous celebration, such as when you stood by me on a sacred Pascha morning to shout Christ is Risen! We’re all in this together, making our way through this fallen mortal world. I’m proud to call you a brother in Christ.

    I know some of your struggle with the funk season. A scripture from my own traditions says: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

    May your journey be blessed.

  5. unworthy Reader John Simmons Says:

    Please allow me, in my presumption, to mingle your thoughts with some of my thoughts and the thoughts of others:

    -I have been Orthodox for 7 years and I still feel like I am in a strange land.

    May this strange land, become for you, paradise, and the the world become a land of estrangement.

    -It seems that alot of what I do as a Christian now– i.e. follow the Fasts, struggle against the passions, and etc is so that I can receive the Eucharist, be considered by others as faithful, and to stay on course for my Godsons.

    It seems to me to me that this is only bad if you do it hypocritically or in a spirit of phariseeism. Otherwise, you are motivated by more than just selfish concerns, no? This might be how a soldier things – I can’t go on, but I must push just a little further for the sake of my brother”

    -I don’t feel any closer to Christ.

    “Feelings…nothing more than feelings…” (my least favorite song, but it has a point).

    -I feel like my struggle against the passions is a work of personal discipline…

    In it’s proper place, the patristic word is “synergy”. You struggle, and God, upon seeing your struggle, will crown it with victory. You’ll look back at all your struggles, and realize that God did most of the work, even though it doesn’t seem like that.

    -I think about how St. Mary of Egypt struggled for 17 years. But I feel like I struggle on my own… as a parent I know that if I do not offer some sort of encouragement that my kids can become discouraged.

    Spiritual children need more consolations than spiritual adults.

    -My prayers are often filled with wandering thots.
    -I am aware and acknowledge that I struggle with depression and that I am in that Season currently. But also as these feelings of depression subside all is good. But these similar thots and feelings seem to arise each time.
    -I feel boxed in, while at the same time not fully understanding what the Church teaches… as a Protestant I felt more comfident; now I am afraid to step out and say I believe this or that for fear that I am wrong — Our Church holds the right Faith, the right belief and so I want to know and proclaim that… I have done it my own way for years.
    -I feel discontent, yet too scared to do anything about it.
    -I get discouraged by some of the externals.
    -I read about the Saints and Righteous Ones and the do not seem all caught up in regulations, theology, etc… They just seem to flow, loving Christ, His Mother, the Saints and etc. I would like that.
    Sure of course there are others you read and the authors seem to focus on others.
    -Is it just my struggle to not be at peace?

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    +Ascetiscism/Ascetic life, the struggle against the passions is to get the stuff out of the way that keeps us from loving Christ.
    That gets in the way between us and Christ. It is like a bulldozer plowing/pushing the junk out of the way.
    +It is not performanced based, attempting to please God or earn His favor–
    +We can’t force God’s love–we ask for it.
    +Spiritual reading is to know Christ, the One I love.

  6. unworthy Reader John Simmons Says:

    Ack! I accidentally hit return in the middle of writing – oh well, let me try to finish in haste:

    Your prayers are filled with thoughts – no doubt your spiritual reading is filled with sleepiness, etc. etc. welcome to the club! I have no doubt that these problems will go away as soon as you die. In the meantime, check out St. Theophans’s advice on quieting down a bit before prayer, and other forms of “preprayeration”

    In general, re: the rest of your post, I can identify with it. I have gone through long periods of depression, doubts, etc. etc. wondering if spiritual joy and consolation would ever return. It does, perhaps not as often as I would like, but it does. It sounds like you are not neglecting the battle, which is good. Recall what was said at the St. Herman Monastery – Fr. Seraphim’s words, how he turned to the Holy Fathers with every question, and received the answers which he shared with us. Cry out more often to Christ with these burdens, and to your patron saint, and the Mother of God, and your holy Guardian angel (and perhaps your confessor or spiritual father), who are standing by, always ready to assist in the struggle. I heartily recommend “The Spiritual Life” by St. Theophan the Recluse, who gives lots of nice summaries of patristic advice for dealing with all these struggles.

    I am also collecting quotes for spiritual strugglers who are in the world. These can be found at:
    http://strannik.com/watchful_gate/node/19

    It was great being there at the monastery with you – May God bless and crown your struggles – keep on struggling – take no prisoners!

  7. Mimi Says:

    It is not the falling down, but the failure to get back up. However, I have been there and am often still there, all I can say is Lord have Mercy.

  8. symphonyguy Says:

    Dear Papa,

    I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone…there is a band of brothers and sisters right there with you…don’t be afraid…don’t give up…what you have chosen to pursue is worthy…

    God bless!

    Mike

  9. Barbara-Marie Drezhlo Says:

    After all the long comments above, let’s keep it simple. Prayer is WORK. Love grows at its pace, not yours or mine. If you feel inadequate, do join the rest of us sinners in the Church. We are ALL in the same boat. After fifty-odd years of life and Orthodoxy, I “understand” it no better than you do. In fact, to seek “understanding” is a deviation, a setting up of an idol, so, to know that one does not “understand”, that is a good starting point. Orthodoxy can be SO Zen-like at times (although, I hasten to add, it is not like Zen at all. Go figure.).

    I would be worried if you went about and told all and sundry of some great revelation that had just occured to you. THAT would be soul-corrosive. Unfortunately, there are many Orthodox neophytes on the Internet who give their “weighty” opinions on spirituality and the canons, when they cannot tell the difference between a tennis court and an ecclessiastical court (The guilty shall remain nameless. We know them all, in any case.).

    In short, Papa Herman, God is being GOOD to you. It has taken you only seven years to figure out that Orthodoxy cannot be “figured out”. What can you do? Live the Mysteries and practise paitience and perserverance. There shall be many times of temptation, I know that from personal experience. Every born-Orthodox has their periods of lapse, if not outright apostasy, and I tell you truly that I am no exception to the rule! I have fallen, and I know that one can get up again.

    Promise me one thing, Papa Herman… Promise me that you shall not judge yourself as you did in this post. It is so Calvinist. Simply realise your sin, realise everyone else is as sinful, and that God’s grace does cover all of us. (If you think YOU are a great sinner… I have news for you… I have been at the sin business longer than you, sir! Perhaps, a little levity to help the medicine go down!)

    Vara

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